Landon Lecture Takes a Sports-Centered Spin
And that was exactly what was discussed last night at Kansas State University's first Landon Lecture of 2014 with guest speakers ESPN president John Skipper, Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, former Texas athletics director DeLoss Dodds and K-State president Dr. Kirk Schulz.
The setup of the lecture was an open forum where each speaker discussed questions presented by the moderator, K-State athletics director John Currie.
"I had done a little research on the Landon Lectures and one can't help but be a little bit taken back by the quality of people who have been involved," Bowlsby said. "I think it's probably the only time I've shared a stage with Paul Harvey, and so it's an impressive event that lived up to the bill; I was really honored to be asked."
Conversations during the lecture ranged from various topics from ESPN's mission to the stance of the NCAA today to the constant changing world of multimedia. These topics and more were discussed with the focus of ESPN's role in collegiate athletics.
"At ESPN, our mission is to serve sports fans, and that's it," stated Skipper. "That's what it's been since it started. We have 7,000 employees, mostly in Bristol, Conn., some in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Charlotte, Austin, and they all understand that that's what we're doing. We're serving sports fans. If sports fans like it, we're going to do it."
ESPN, now a household word, is in over 100 million homes today. It has grown from, in 1979, a trailer in a field in Bristol to one of the world's biggest sports information distributors.
"Clearly ESPN has changed the way the world consumes its sports," Bowlsby said. "I think back to when it was the Entertainment Sports Programing Network and no one really knew what that meant, I think it's astonishing what it's become. Not only has ESPN created its own world, but they have created a world which every other sports broadcast aspires. They truly have set the standard for sports broadcasting and presentation, and it's a remarkable story and is on that is an American story."
While Currie asked the questions for the majority of the evening, once it was all said and done, the floor was open to those in attendance to ask questions of their own.
K-State students and faculty and Manhattan residents lined up to ask their questions and share their thoughts with the speakers.
However, one student in particular really stood out.
A K-State student from New York stepped up to the microphone and began by thanking Skipper for ESPN. He said if it weren't for ESPN, he would have never heard of K-State, and would "never have had the opportunity to meet this amazing K-State family."
With his comments the crowd in McCain Auditorium burst into applause.
After the event, Currie said it was that student's story that was among his favorite moments of the evening.
"I though it was good," Currie said of the evening. "I thought the questions were great. I thought the coolest thing was that student from New York who, seeing K-State on TV brought him to Manhattan, Kan. - that really, that was a great story."
Overall, a key takeaway of the night was that Skipper and ESPN's vision is to partner with universities and find what works best for student-athletes nationwide.
"I don't ever have to ask John Skipper if he cares about the education of our student-athletes," explained Bowlsby. "He understands that side of the business and so does his staff. To say that they're ever in a situation where their barking orders are driving the agenda is just not accurate. It really is a partnership and those of us that are on the institutional side of that partnership spend a lot of time making sure that the right decisions are made for student-athletes because it is about getting an education."
On his first visit to Manhattan, Skipper said, "It's been fabulous, people were friendly, nice and the hospitality has been unbelievable. The questions tonight were great - people love sports here. It's American. It's my first time here and it's been a lovely experience. I'd love to come back."
With that, Skipper was off to board a plane and get back to work because, in his words, "At ESPN, every day is game day."
DODDS REMEMBERS K-STATE
Bringing a different spin and many years of knowledge to the discussion was Dodds. Dodds, who retired as Texas' athletics director in Nov. 2013, after 32 years with the program, is no stranger to K-State. He began his career in athletics when he joined K-State as the assistant track coach and eventually became the head track coach for 13 years before taking over as K-State's athletics director from 1978-81.
Being back in Manhattan, and especially in McCain Auditorium, was special to Dodds and brought back many memories of his years in the Little Apple.
"Lots of memories, especially in this building," he laughed. "My wife, Mary Ann, worked for President McCain. When I was the assistant track coach the track coach quit, and they started interviewing all these big, powerful track coaches. When they finally got around to me, the A.D. said, 'Are you interested?' and I said, 'Yea.' Then I went to see Dr. McCain and he said, 'If you don't get the job, what are you going to do?' I told him we would move to coach track at a high school, and he said, 'Well we don't want to lose Mary Ann.' So she got me my first job with Dr. McCain."